The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 8

Characters from the serial, Belle on a horse and Jean guiding it.
Listen to this story


“You’ll need to wear something more subdued,” Uncle Gerard said when Belle appeared at the breakfast table wearing her favourite lilac-striped sarsnet gown.

“At Wychwood, Sunday is a day for sober reflection and your apparel should match. Go and change.”

Belle flushed. Uncle Gerard was treating her like a child and for a moment she was tempted to act like one, but she contented herself with a withering look that he didn’t even notice.

She’d never felt less holy than on this first Sunday at Wychwood, but as she followed her uncle into the little stone church, she saw he was right, for fashion here lagged far behind London taste.

Although she’d changed into a more subdued fawn poplin, the flounce was still much deeper than anyone else was wearing and her matching bonnet with its sweeping ostrich feather looked totally out of place.

The long walk to the Fortescue pew just below the pulpit was an ordeal, the forest of curious eyes boring into Belle’s back making her want to squirm.

Belle found herself longing for a friendly face. How she wished Lil was here, but she had a nasty cough and was confined to bed.

Sandwiched between Uncle Gerard and frosty Miss Manners, both of whom acted as if she was invisible, Belle felt on edge, a situation not helped by dropping her hymn book with a clatter during the sermon.

Belle picked it up, red-faced, wishing the ground would open and swallow her up.

At the end of the service, the vicar, a handsome elderly man with a mane of silver hair, stood at the door bidding his parishioners goodbye.

To Belle’s relief, he made no mention of her clumsiness.

“So you are Piers’s daughter,” he said. “I was sorry to hear of his death – he was a fine man. I hope you’re settling into Wychwood well.

“You must come to tea soon, my dear, and try my housekeeper’s famous plum cake.”

His friendliness made Belle want to linger, but other parishioners were waiting so she stepped out into the churchyard, looking around for Miss Manners, who was nowhere to be seen.

Belle walked down to the church wall and gazed out across the fields, but after a few minutes she began to feel unsettled, as though someone was watching.

Swinging round to catch the culprit, she found herself face to face with Jean Foucault, his sea-blue eyes dancing merrily.

“What are you doing here?” she said sharply.

“What sort of question is that?” Jean replied. “Do you think me too much of a heathen to attend church?”

“She might be right, you know,” the vicar, who had come up behind them, said.

“Teach him the error of his ways, Miss Belle. He needs someone to take him in hand.

“I’ve been trying to tame my grandson for years without success.”

“Your grandson?” Now she knew, Belle could see a likeness in their lively expressions and animated gestures.

“Yes, and a good one, too. He’s always got time for his old grandfather.”

“Well, who else will stop you wearing yourself out?” Jean said. “Marion is just as bad. I believe the two of you would give the clothes off your back if someone had need of them.”

“Speaking of clothes,” the vicar said, “I must catch Anne Palfrey and tell her Marion’s found two pairs of breeches for her boys with plenty of wear still in them.

“With that drunkard husband, the poor woman needs all the help she can get.” He hurried off, leaving Belle and Jean alone.

“How’s your friend?” Belle asked.

“His leg’s healing well. It’s lucky for him as he’s the breadwinner in the family since his father died.”

“Perhaps I could be of assistance?” Belle offered.

“Don’t think you can come here and play Lady Bountiful! People need more than a few pence and cast-offs to turn their lives around.”

Belle was taken aback by the anger in his eyes.

“I only wanted to help.”

Jean looked at her remorsefully.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that there’s such a gulf between rich and poor, wealthy men who should know better like your . . .”

He broke off. Like your uncle, Belle thought. That was what he’d been about to say.

As if conjured up by Jean’s thoughts, they saw Gerard advancing on them, his face cold and angry.

“I’d better go,” Jean said. “Your uncle won’t want me talking to you. He and I don’t exactly get on.”

He took her hand just as he’d done on the cliff, but while that had been to comfort her, this felt different.

The strict instructions from her childhood governess about men and how any attempt to take “liberties” should be actively discouraged flashed through Belle’s mind, but from Jean, this didn’t feel like one.

His eyes searched hers.

“Don’t forget. Be careful at Wychwood, Belle.” Reluctantly, he let her go.

To be continued…

An error has occurred while loading your details. Please click the following link to try again - if the issue persists, please don't hesitate to contact us. Try again by refreshing the page.